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How COVID-19 and FBA changes are affecting the Amazon buy box algorithm

Nothing in the world is normal right now, and that includes selling on Amazon. COVID-19 has changed how FBA and the Amazon buy box algorithm work, giving sellers an unusual opportunity to increase visibility and sales.

What’s happening with Amazon?

In the space of fewer than three months, Amazon has gone from being one of the fastest online marketplaces around to one of the slowest.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Amazon’s FBA fulfillment network hard in three core areas.

  1. Essential items: Increased demand for essential items owing to global panic buying.
  2. Non-essential items: Increased demand for non-essential items owing to the closure of physical retail stores.
  3. Capacity: Reduced warehouse capabilities owing to staff sicknesses and warehouse distancing practices.

How is this affecting FBA & fast shipping?

The strain of increased orders and reduced capacity has caused Amazon to impose two strict measures for FBA sellers.

  • A restriction on inbound orders of non-essential items. In early April, they’ve clarified this will expand to an item-by-item case basis.
  • An increase in product delivery estimations by up to one month. We researched orders in March and saw delivery dates almost 4 weeks later.

That means sellers can potentially deliver more quickly and replenish stock faster using FBM while these restraints are in place.

Recap: what is FBM?

FBM (Fulfillment by Merchant) is an alternative to FBA where the seller becomes responsible for fulfilling orders. This includes storing, picking, packing, shipping, and tracking Amazon orders yourself or using an outsourced fulfillment partner.

How is this affecting the Amazon buy box algorithm?

Aside from affecting your ability to stock, restock, and ship items via FBA, the restrictions have also led Amazon to change its buy box algorithm.

Recap: what is the buy box?

The Amazon buy box is the white box on the right-hand side of the product page, where customers automatically go to Add to Cart or Buy Now.

If multiple sellers sell the same product, one seller will win the buy box, while the other sellers will appear in the “Other Sellers on Amazon” box further down the page.

Winning the buy box means that you’ll benefit from shoppers who automatically purchase from the buy box winner or don’t even know about the Other Sellers on Amazon box. This has follow-on benefits such as more customer reviews and repeat purchases.

How has the buy box algorithm changed?

Typically, the buy box algorithm favored FBA sellers because their items were usually shipped faster than FBM sellers. However, since that’s no longer the case, Amazon has adjusted the buy box algorithm to favor items that can be delivered faster, regardless of whether that’s by FBA or FBM.

This means that if you fulfill by merchant, or your considering doing so in light of the current restrictions, you have more chance than normal to win the buy box.

How to win the Amazon buy box during COVID-19

However, don’t get too confident just yet. Amazon isn’t giving away the buy box; you still have to work for it.

There are four contributing factors to satisfying the buy box algorithms and winning your place above the Add to Cart button.

1. Fast shipping

Clearly, fast shipping is the top criteria for becoming buy box eligible. Specifically, you want to fulfill orders in two days or fewer, complete with relevant tracking information.

Since FBA cannot guarantee those speeds for every category right now, if you’re selling a non-essential item you should look into FBM to achieve fast delivery speeds.

In-house FBM

In-house FBM involves using your own space, facilities, and shipping carrier to ship items within two days or fewer. This is a great option for sellers with small products, spare storage space, and a little extra time on their hands due to the pandemic.

Outsourced FBM

Outsourced FBM involves using an Amazon FBM fulfillment partner to perform the functions of FBA, using their own fulfillment network. This is ideal for FBA sellers who want to maintain the hands-off approach of FBA or those that don’t have the time, tools, space, or inclination to handle fulfillment in-house.

2. Competitive pricing

Amazon is competing against other online marketplaces such as Walmart, Wish, and eBay. Accordingly, the buy box algorithm looks for competitive pricing, including shipping fees.

However, this doesn’t have to be a race to the bottom – especially not during these times. An eCommerce repricer can automatically set and adjust listings to the highest price possible to win the buy box while still generating a profit.

3. Well-stocked inventory

Well-stocked inventory is a must for taking the buy box crown and ensuring that Amazon can meet customer demand.

As FBA is limiting inbound shipments of FBA stock, you need to use either in-house or outsourced FBM methods to keep your Amazon stock levels healthy.

Note: COVID-19 is affecting purchasing behavior, which means you might need to re-think your product lines and introduce new items that appeal to current purchasing patterns.

4. Solid customer reviews

If Amazon is going to promote you as the best seller to buy from, then you need some solid customer reviews behind you – especially if you’re using FBM.

Increase your customer experience by keeping your deliveries on time, valid tracking data, and response time metrics high, while keeping your order defect rates and return dissatisfaction scores low.

5. Well-optimized listings

Finally, Amazon’s algorithms and customers need to know what you’re selling, and this requires well-optimized listings.

Use relevant long and short tail keywords, high-quality images, informative descriptions, and useful bullet points to increase the chances of your product listing being found by Amazon, ranking high in the search results, and converting online shoppers into customers.

Key takaways of COVID-19 and the Amazon buy box

Now might not be the time you want to think about growing your business or increasing sales. However, it’s important to protect your business as well as your health throughout the pandemic.

Winning the Amazon Buy Box can help you stand out from other third-party sellers, benefit from the growth in online shoppers, and convert customers during these difficult times.

If winning the buy box helps you to stay afloat during the crisis and emerge on the other side, then it’s well worth the effort.

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